End of the trail

A lot has changed since Don Hardman built the Tee Pee Trail off Post Canyon Road 25 years ago. Sometime next year, however, the trail will experience the most drastic change of all.

October 22, 2005

Don Hardman’s eyes snag on something a few hundred yards up the path.

It’s a sort of bridge, descending from the steep hillside and tapering into a log, no wider than a tissue box.

The 100-foot-long stunt then skinnies absurdly into a stick, which drops almost vertically to the pine-needle path where Hardman and his wife Nola are standing.

That wasn’t here the last time Hardman trotted through on his horse back in 1990.

And neither, he says, were the ladders and winding bridges screaming down the hillside on the west side of the creek.

But this is definitely the trail, Hardman maintains. It’s definitely the same trail he and his buddy, Darryl Troxel began building 25 years ago – a few months after Mount St. Helens blew up.

He can still remember the sound of ash sprinkling through the Post Canyon forest canopy as he and Troxel cleared yard after yard of underbrush.

He can still picture the field on Riordan Hill Drive where they ended the horse path.

They called it the “Tee Pee Trail,” named after the Tee Pee that had originally lured them to the game trail two miles up Post Canyon Road.

“At the time we built it, Troxel said to me: ‘I wonder if anybody but us would ever use this,’” Hardman recalls. “It’s not much of a ride. You could ride up and back in an hour and a half. He said ‘nature would will probably take it back when we’re done with it and no one will even know it was there.’”

Very quickly, however, the Tee Pee Trail was a local favorite.

It was, after all, within less than a mile’s ride of the saddle club and a world away from asphalt and traffic.

The path has changed drastically since St. Helens blew its top in 1980 and since Hardman last rode it on his horse back in 1990.

It’s name-change is the most obvious of transformations. Now it’s Seven Streams.

But the people who use it have changed too.

When Hardman first showed the path to his fellow Hood River Saddle Club members shortly after cutting it, horses and hiking shoes were the sole vehicles on the path.

And then, starting in 1984, they noticed a quick, more stealthy means of transport.

“I remember when Keith Short – that’s her dad,” he explains, pointing to his wife. “Anyway, I remember he said ‘you gotta be careful of mountain bikers. I saw two of them up there.’

“We used to caution people back then to be on the look-out for mountain bikers,” he continues. “They’re quiet and they’ll be on you before you know it.”

Now, mountain biking is so common and so popular on the Seven Streams trail, it’s the place to which local bike shops Discover Bicycles and Mountain View direct newcomers to the area looking for a short and quick ride.

Last week Cannondale, on a nationwide promotional tour, landed in Hood River. They parked the trailer, containing dozens of downhill mountain bikes, at the end of Post Canyon Road.

No pre-event advertising.

No calls to the local newspaper.

In the first 20 minutes of their hike up the old path on Oct. 19, Hardman and his wife have already passed a pair of mountain bikers.

As the couple strolls up the trail, they comment to each other on how wide the trail has become in their absence and the presence of ramps and stunts descending the western hillside.

“Who would ever think of doing something like that?” Hardman says in disbelief. “I’d pay $5 to watch somebody do that. I would.”

Then they encounter another bridge on the trail. This one is right in front of them on the path.

Hardman analyzes it carefully.

“A horse wouldn’t want to go over that bridge,” he says. “He could slip. Flip. And land in the creek on top of the rider.”

“You can see,” he says, pointing to evidence of horse traffic through the stream, “the horses have been riding around it. I don’t blame them. I would too.”

Hardman follows his own advice around the bridge and through the dry streambed. It’s advice that is contributing to what will be the most significant change to the Seven Streams trail since Hardman and Troxel first cut it 25 years ago: Its destruction.

Eight months ago, the Forest Recreation Trails Committee decided Post Canyon’s original path was excessively harming its environment.

Erosion was thrusting too much soil into the fish-bearing streams that run alongside it.

Bridges crossing the creek were too high and too narrow for horses to safely cross. Too often, as a result, horseback riders were riding around the bridges, through the streams.

So the committee applied for and secured a $10,000-grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which it will use as matching funds to apply for another $40,000 to $50,000 grant from the Recreational Trails Program in 2006.

This money will provide the tools and the labor that will do to Seven Streams sometime next summer what Troxel had figured time, nature and lack of traffic would do 25 years earlier: render it to non-existence.

“The whole point is that they’ll stand here and not even see it (trail),” says county forester Henry Buckalew, as he scans it from the Seven Streams trailhead. “If they do see it, there’ll be so many logs and trees and plants in it, it won’t be worth it to them to ride it.”

On Oct. 11, county foresters Brent Gleason and Buckalew, committee member and trail builder Pat Monahan and Rick Hollatz, Hood River Watershed coordinator ventured up Post Canyon Road to flag a sort of rough draft of Seven Streams’ replacement trail.

The flagged trees indicating a possible path, meander over small ridges and down miniature gulleys about 100 feet above the existing path to the east.

“We tried to not go over a 10 percent grade,” Buckalew says, climbing up the steep slope.

The committee’s original intention was to try to maintain as much of the thrills of Seven Streams as possible by preserving a few of the classic stream crossings.

As the four men scouted a possible new location for the old path, however, three – Gleason, Hollatz and Monahan – figured relocating the trail further up the slope and away from the stream would eliminate the constant worry of soil erosion and horses need for wide, engineered bridges.

And engineered, multi-use bridges are a good cost to avoid.

Jill Van Winkle, Hood River resident and representative for International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) estimates each bridge could eat up as much as $5,000 to $10,000 from the county’s budget.

“Sometimes the abrupt edge of a bridge can be disarming to the horse,” she said. “So we have to make sure there’s a smooth transition from trail to bridge. We also have to make sure it can withstand the load. That’s why it needs to be engineered. What we really don’t want is to put in a bridge and have people going around it and hurting the streambank.”

For horseback riders, the equation is simple: the fewer stream-crossings the new trail demands, the more likely it is that horseback riders will be allowed to ride on the path when the county decides later this year what user groups are appropriate for the new trail.

“If the costs became prohibitive to build bridges then they would possibly look into the fact that it (Seven Streams) was not for horses,” explained committee member and horseback riding representative Ken Hansen. “They would designate another trail that would be for horses.”

But, says county forester Buckalew, relocating the trail higher up on the east side of the stream could also strand some of downhill’s classic trails such as “Skidder” since they would no longer connect to a major trail. And mostly, argues Buckalew, moving it up the hillside would diminish the authentic Seven Streams experience.

“It could be a very fun trail,” Buckalew says. “But it’s just not Seven Streams.”

The Seven Streams trail begins at a make-shift dirt parking area a couple miles up Post Canyon Road after it turns to gravel.

It crosses the creekbed over a bridge and heads up toward Riordan Hill to the south. You are never more than a mile or so from the road. Within a hundred yards of travelling, however, you are buried under a thick canopy of pines and maples and pinched between a lush canyon.

For this beauty, Douglas Johnson, president of the Gorge Freeride Association argued at Tuesday’s Forest Recreation Trails meeting the committee should reconsider re-locating the original path.

“Why can’t they (horses) go through the creek?” he said. “I see deer doing it all the time. They have the same feet don’t they? ... That’s what makes it unique. It’s the only trail that goes along the creek.”

On the return trip, Hardman and his wife are smiling, remembering the way it was and critiquing the way it now is.

“They’ve done a good job out here,” he says. “They’ve taken real good care of it.”

He pauses for a few strides: “I could sure go for a ride today. Boy, today sure feels like a good day for a ride.”

*****

Where to relocate the replacement surfaced as a topic of mild debate at the Forest Recreation Trails Committee’s meeting Tuesday.

The committee is planning a field trip at 10 a.m. on November 5, at Post Canyon’s second parking area to field suggestions about the placement of a new trail.

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